Princess for a Year: Norway's Party Girl

Dear Fairy Godmother,

Help! I liked riding in the pumpkin coach, but the paparazzi are just too much. As for royal duties, I'd rather be back cleaning up after my wicked stepmother and stepsisters. Is it too late to smash that glass slipper?

— Cinderella

In the past two decades, the world has watched while three commoners married British royal princes — and found that the fairy tale came with more than a few pitfalls.

Princess Diana's unhappy marriage rocked the monarchy, Sarah Ferguson ended up splashed across the tabloids with her toe in a Texan's mouth, and Sophie Rhys-Jones ran afoul of some tabloid trickery following her marriage to Prince Edward.

But there is one commoner-turned-royal who seems to be getting it right.

Crown Princess Mette-Marit, 29, has made it through her first year of marriage to the heir to Norway's throne without any major gaffes or glitches.

"I think in most people's eyes she has done quite a good job," said Liv Berit Tessem, who covers the royals for the Aftenposten, Norway's leading broadsheet newspaper.

From Single Mom to Royal Princess

When she married Crown Prince Haakon in Oslo Cathedral on Aug. 25, 2001, Mette-Marit Tjessem Høiby didn't seem like the most obvious candidate for future queen.

She was a commoner who had worked as a waitress and was part of Oslo's wild "house party" circle. She also was an unwed mother, with a young son from a previous relationship with a convicted drug dealer.

One year later, none of that seems to matter much to her future subjects.

"Since the marriage she has completed all her official assignments to most Norwegians' liking," said Håkon Kavli, a political scientist for the MMI Institute in Norway, in an e-mail to

Kavli said the institute's polling showed more than one in three Norwegians think the crown princess is a good role model for the young, "while only one out of 10 think she's a bad role model."

"This is a good result for her, considering all the debate in the Norwegian media on her being a single mother before meeting the crown prince," he said.

Tessem doesn't think single motherhood was ever a strike against Mette-Marit, because it's the norm in Norway.

"People don't have any prejudice; that's the way life is in Norway," she said. "Most children are born outside marriage. People have longtime relationships, but not to have married mommies and daddies is normal."

In fact, the Norwegian public takes a protective interest in Marius, the crown princess's 5-year-old son. When she travels around Norway, people always ask her about Marius, and often send him presents. They want to make sure he doesn't feel left out, said Tessem.

"People are very concerned about her little son," said Tessem. "He must be the child in Norway who is most spoiled, because people are so concerned he is not going to feel right" about his status in the royal family.

Apparently Mette-Marit felt her son was becoming overexposed, because in October she asked the media to stop photographing the boy.

Not Another Diana

But that request to the media has been Mette-Marit's most confrontational act in the past year. She's been careful to steer clear of controversy.

"She has not opened her mouth yet," said Tessem. "She has chosen a very traditional and careful role."

Since the wedding, the crown princess has accompanied her husband on a number of goodwill tours throughout the country.

"This summer, she and the crown prince have been touring the western, most beautiful part of Norway, and I believe the TV images from the representation they did has gained her popularity," said Kavli.

Inevitably, some have compared the blond, photogenic Mette-Marit to another photogenic princess.

"[Some people] think she is another Diana. I don't think she is that," said Tessem.

For one thing, said Tessem, becoming a member of the Norwegian royal family is nowhere near as daunting as joining the Windsor clan.

"The Norwegian royal family is much more relaxed than the English royal family was," she said. "I don't think you can compare the two families at all."

A Series of Accidents

As she adjusts to her royal role, Mette-Marit has had to get used to the constant media attention. In February, there was a scene aboard a plane when she thought she was being photographed.

"She accused a photographer of taking a picture of her in the cabin. She was very upset because she had asked that no one take pictures because she is afraid of flying," said Tessem. "She was very upset and angry.

"The pressure is obviously very strong. I think that was very difficult for her," said Tessem.

"She's getting used to posing and having photographers on her official events, but it's a hard thing to cope with the interest in her private life."

Mette-Marit has also been plagued by a series of ailments. After attending the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, she came down with pneumonia. Then she broke her ankle during an Easter ski trip.

In May, Mette-Marit and her husband were severely sunburned during an interview with a German TV crew. The strong spring sun, combined with reflection from the camera lights, scorched the couple so badly that they sustained first- and second-degree burns.

"The sunburn was quite scary," said Tessem. "The crown princess was very badly burned; she had open wounds."

The injuries forced her to bow out of an official trip to Germany, but no one thought she was shirking her royal duties. "She had a high degree of sympathy in the population," said Kavli.

Supportive In-Laws

Mette-Marit has also received a lot of sympathy and support from her mother-in-law, Queen Sonja, said Tessem.

The queen herself was a commoner until she married the future King Harald V in 1968. Harald's father, King Olav V, reportedly took some convincing before he consented to the match.

"The queen has been very supportive and very helpful" to her new daughter-in-law, Tessem said.

And Mette-Marit is not the only commoner to marry into the royal family this year. Haakon's sister, Princess Martha Louise, married hip young novelist Ari Behn in May.

Behn was a somewhat controversial choice because he had been seen as condoning drug use during an appearance in a TV documentary. An MMI poll found only one in 10 Norwegians consider Behn a good role model, Kavli said.

Kavli said the addition of Mette-Marit had not really boosted the popularity of the royal family, but he thinks that's really more a question of people not being used to her, a sort of "We like the royal family the way it is."

"I suspect her popularity will rise in this respect as the Norwegian population gets used to the idea that Mette-Marit is royalty, too."

Studying in London

After celebrating their wedding anniversary this weekend, Haakon, Mette-Marit and Marius are set to move to London, where the crown prince will start a one-year master's program in development issues at the London School of Economics. Mette-Marit plans to study development and foreign aid work at the University of London's School of Oriental and African Studies.

The crown princess holds no college degree, something that many Norwegians consider a bit unusual.

"She has no sort of formal education at all. That's the only thing people find difficult [about her]," Tessem said.

Most Norwegian women, she said, expect to pursue careers. "You can have children, but it's also expected that you should be able to earn money for your own bread, that you should go to school."

Meanwhile, the public has another expectation of their new crown princess: They're waiting for news of a pregnancy.

"People are into it," said Tessem. "The crown prince should produce another heir. And when you have that type of romantic wedding … everybody hopes a child will be born."

And, unlike "the wedding of the century" of Charles and Diana in Britain, this one might actually turn out happily ever after.

Are Haakon and Mette-Marit really in love? "Absolutely," said Tessem.

"It's a true love story."